Canning My Own Tomatoes…Again

29 Aug

Full disclosure: I wrote (and posted) this two years ago…but thought of it last night and felt called to re-post since many of you didn’t see it back then! This is tomato season – and I’ll blog more about that on Tuesday – but for now, enjoy this “throwback” post. It’s one of my favorites.

This is how I can tomatoes: with words. In past years I have canned them with jars. Lovely, shining, wide-mouth Mason jars, topped with golden rings and flowery caps. I have waited in nervous expectation for them to seal, for them to justify my time and energy and sweat. And, almost always, I have been rewarded with a “ping” of success. Ah, sweet music to a canner’s ears.

But not anymore. Well, maybe someday again, but not for now. Nor, I’m sure, for a long time to come. Canning is a HUGE job. No, it’s not difficult, per say, but it’s messy, hot, and sticky…times a thousand. Every surface of my kitchen would need wiping down after I canned tomatoes. And I needed a shower. Badly. Yes, it’s rewarding. Yes, I loved having MY tomatoes on the shelf all winter long, lending the taste of summer to my spaghetti sauce. I LOVED that. But not enough to do it anymore.

Who knew such beauty could come from a lowly whiskey barrel?

For one thing, I’d have to have a garden. Or at least a whole lot more tomatoes than I have now in my four whiskey-barrels. And to have a garden I’d need a fence. And to have a fence I’d need time and energy and commitment to this lifestyle called gardening in order to justify the expense of the fence and the fertilizer (perhaps Rita over at SoSheMarriedAFarmer could give me some cow poop for free?). But most of all, the sheer loss of writing time while out weeding, watering and harvesting keeps my fingernails clean and my thumb less than green. Yes, I have a lot of excuses.

But seriously, writing – and figuring out this writing life – is captivating/controlling/fulfilling me right now. I cannot do everything…and so gardening is out. If only we had more TIME. Time to clean, play, parent, garden, write, sleep, eat, work, drive, can, read, volunteer, befriend a lonely orphan…the list goes on. Canning is definitely out.

How is it that some people seem to have time to do all of that and then some? I am not one of those people. There are too many books calling to be read. Too many sentences begging to be edited. Too many blogs to check out. This is my life right now, and I’m okay with that.

Don’t get me wrong: I liked canning. Other than the mess. I liked feeling a communion with my mother, my Scottish grandmother. I liked feeling like I was contributing. Liked feeling like a homemaker, a provider. Like I was Ma Ingalls. After all, Walnut Grove is only a couple of hours from here; maybe there’s something in the air in these parts, some tomato-laden scent that calls a person with the voice of those pioneer women, enticing them jar-wards. Just call me Caroline.


Yeah, dream on, Self. I never was more than a one-hit wonder in the canning world. I never canned anything other than tomatoes – oh, and a few kinds of jam, come to think of it. I did write a poem about canned beans once. It was the only poem I wrote that my college poetry professor ever liked. I got into his class because he thought I was related to someone…only I wasn’t. There aren’t a lot of poets out there with the last name of “Wendt” and it turns out that Ingrid Wendt was a known Eugene-area poet of the time. All these English profs and secretaries in the department kept asking me if she was my mother – it was very confusing at first – but turned out to be to my benefit, so thanks, Ingrid, if you ever read this!

Anyway, I’ll see if I can find that poem just for giggles. I know I still have it somewhere in the depths of my box of college memorabilia. I wrote it during Music Appreciation class one afternoon – shhh – don’t tell my kids I wasn’t paying attention to the teacher.

So, yes, sadly, (but to the joy of anti-botulism fans everywhere) the only beans I ever canned were in my poem. And the only tomatoes these days are in words, too. The jam is long gone, the jars mostly broken. But the words remain. Perhaps that’s the best kind of canning, after all.

At least for me.

9 Responses to “Canning My Own Tomatoes…Again”

  1. Minnesota Prairie Roots August 29, 2013 at 12:08 pm #

    I remember this post, Gretchen, and am delighted to reread it. You make excellent points for not canning. I don’t can either and feel guilty about that sometimes given several of my siblings can. Why don’t I? Probably for many of the same reasons you don’t.

    Like you, my success in canning comes in words, specifically that of a poem, “Her Treasure.”

    Remember when I entered a poetry competition in Zumbrota and my poem was chosen and an artist created a piece of art based on my poem? Here’s the link:

    http://mnprairieroots.com/2012/04/22/celebrating-poetry-and-art-in-zumbrota-on-a-saturday-evening/

    • Gretchen O'Donnell August 29, 2013 at 12:14 pm #

      I like this post too! It kind of sums me up: a combination of guilt and creativity. THANK YOU for the link! Will definitely check it out – I always love reading your poems!

  2. Cleo August 29, 2013 at 4:51 pm #

    It was a necessity,back in the day. We HAD” to put up” the 100’s of jars of veggies,fruit, and end of the season soups to maintain our families
    through the long winter months. The women were so proud of their labors and loved to show off the long row of canned stuff on the basement shelves. Potatoes in the bin too. And cans of pork and beef before freezers and before that electricity. Those were the good ole days.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell August 29, 2013 at 6:51 pm #

      Well…yes, good in a lot of ways, but oy, vey, I’m not sad that I don’t have to do all of that! I suppose I’m lazy. My mom canned TONS of fruits and veggies – I wish I had photos. She did so much for us!! I really need to write about that…

  3. whatimeant2say August 29, 2013 at 5:53 pm #

    My mother-in-law taught me how to make grape jelly one day, and I developed a new appreciation for the work that goes in to preserving your own food. Way too much work for me!!!!!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell August 29, 2013 at 6:49 pm #

      I’ve never done jelly – jam is easier, I’m betting!! Yes, it’s a ton of work – perhaps if I did it with a friend I’d be more willing to dive in!! or if I was better at growing tomatoes…

  4. naimavanswol August 31, 2013 at 1:21 pm #

    I just canned my first batch of anything, ever. Blueberry jam. It was awesome. But it’s so much work and I don’t know wen I’ll get around to doing it again. Your post is lovely, by the way.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell September 2, 2013 at 5:44 pm #

      Thank you! I have never made blueberry jam, but I am experiencing a new appreciation of blueberry anything lately so it sounds wonderful! I might have to add that to my “to do” list!!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell September 2, 2013 at 5:44 pm #

      OH, and by the way, thanks so much for stopping by!

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